Motherhood. The experience that nothing can ever truly prepare you for, the most unprecedented upheavel a of a life beforehand and the most wonderful interruption of an easy life.
Before we had Raven I was, of course, already a mother, but there is no doubting that my mothering experience with a living baby is far different from that of mothering a memory. From the very moment I first discovered I was pregnant with Winter, 33 long months ago, I had been imagining what being a parent would be like. I did the prenatal yoga, listened to the hypnobirthing CDs and planned endlessly for my confident and serene transition into motherhood. When I was close to my due date with Raven, I told Dean that I would have beautiful dinners ready each night and an empty laundry basket, I said that his days off would be set aside purely for big fun family days out. I’d spent a lot of time on Instagram you see, and it seemed like that was the standard, well dressed babies, catalogue homes, smiling mother.
When Ray first arrived my confidence was sky high. I had been waiting SO LONG for her and I was full of energy and bursting with excitement. She took to breastfeeding immediately and the sleepy newborn phase meant she was content snuggled up in a blanket in the moses basket whilst I ate / washed the pots / stared at her. Dean had 2 weeks with us and we fumbled nonchalantly through the days, happily making it up as we went along. The 2 hourly night feeds didn’t phase me, I had spirit and energy and spent the nights gazing at my creation. ‘We are nailing this!’ we chirped, as I simultaneously nursed Ray and hung out the washing. I felt like supermum, riding on oxytocin and being fed and passed things by an equally chuffed team mate. I was brave, we went out for strolls around the park, the summer sun was beaming and isn’t everything just so much easier with soft weather? If Ray was crying it was for a feed or because I had cruelly pulled a vest over her head to dress her or dared to wash her with wet cotton wool, either way she was easily soothed and most likely asleep again in a matter of minutes. Motherhood felt nothing but easy and ethereal.
Week 3 saw Dean return to work. I imagined myself at a loss of what to do, but the continued roll call of visitors broke up my days and I began to drift into a simple daily routine. Sometimes Ray cried and I didn’t know why, but I loved the idea that we were getting to know each other and I played detective. I spent a lot of time staring at her, lost in her little creation. The nights were long and littered with two hourly feeds, but I enjoyed our special secret time together on the nursery rocking chair when it felt like the whole world was asleep except for us.
By week 4, however, the exhaustion began to set in. Whilst I still was – and still am – ripe with devotion, my body was beginning to feel flushed with aches and I struggled more and more with resettling Ray after feeds. Her arms and legs seemed to get even wigglier than before and she often startled herself awake. I would spend hours in the dark nursing, burping, swaddling, soothing, only to lay her down and watch devastated as her arms flung up and her eyes pinged open. I told Dean it was like writing a whole novel only to set it on fire. Never did she particularly wail in the night, but the sad murmurs marked another round of settling, and I adhered with eyes half open. Dean was always adamant I wake him if I struggled, and he absolutely supported me if ever I did, but as I was breastfeeding there seemed no real need, and I am aware that he is working long days to keep us clothed, fed and housed and so I chose to troop on alone and keep little Winter in my heart for extra patience and energy. But now the nights were shifting from harmonious mother and daughter moments to lonely, exhausted slogs. The days were still filled with precious moments, and don’t get me wrong I was happy and thriving in many other ways, but I found myself desperate for sleep and dreading nighttime.
Colic arrived around weeks 5 and 6. For anyone wondering how this experience plays out… it is essentially hours of continuous screaming baby every evening. Raven was simply inconsolable. Aside from Winters death, I can honestly say it was the most emotionally challenging thing I have ever been through. I was heartbroken as I found myself incapable of soothing my baby with her wide pleading eyes. Her endless cries translated to me as HELP ME HELP ME, and I could not help. The evenings were slowly getting dark earlier, on more than one occasion I stood at the window in my lounge with a thrashing baby in my arms just waiting for Dean to walk around the corner on his way home. Ray cried, I cried. A sense of failure, it wasn’t the fairytale I had been imagining, I wasn’t the mother who could solve all the problems. Help was on hand, I’m lucky to have friends and family ready available to help. My sister in law took some washing home for me, I text my mum and asked for help and her presence was like a weight from my shoulders, my brother came over one evening in the midst of Rays meltdown and washed the pots. After 2 weeks of trying Infacol and various google tactics, we went to the doctors and I came out wondering why we hadn’t been sooner. Colief, an improved feeding latch and no spicy foods pretty much solved our problem and the change in Raven was dreamy.
The colic and exhaustion impacted on my confidence. Winters second birthday was fast approaching and my grief drowned me. I suddenly felt very incapable and worried that I wasn’t ever going to find my groove again. What had begun as a smooth slip into motherhood, suddenly felt very fumbly. I could barely juggle feeding myself let alone preparing a nice evening dinner. A rather ambitious full family day out ended rather abruptly as an already frazzled and unhappy Raven was moved from wrap to car seat to arms to car seat to arms to post poonami full body change and back to carseat… I abandoned the day and took myself and baby back home to the sofa. It was a far cry from my early days of exploration and I wondered why I was going backwards. I realised that I wasn’t able to settle her with ease at times, and I began to worry about being out in public, flustered with a screaming baby. Hungry? Windy? Tired? Bored? I felt as though I didn’t have the answers and I couldn’t manage if she blew out whilst I strolled around Sainsbury’s. In hindsight, weeks 5 and 6 were our hardest yet and it came at a time when Ray was transitioning from sleepy newborn to more awake and aware newborn, and I was just learning how to transition with her. A few weeks later and we had emerged so vividly from the fog of colic and sleepless nights that we had adventurously taken on a trip to London, an effort I would have never imagined possible when I was stood by that window waiting for Dean.
By week 7 we were co-sleeping. Given the long nights previous it was only a matter of time before I gave in to biology. It’s a controversial subject, but all I will say is that I followed safe practices – no pillows or blankets nearby, baby cupped under my arm laying flat on her back etc – it was a beautiful experience and we all slept exceptionally well. After a few successful nights together, I began to place Ray into her Snuzpod with me lay right up close as if we were still in bed together, and over time I was able to move further back into my bed. By week 9 Raven is now happily asleep in her Snuzpod for 8 hours at a time through the night. Of course that could all change again, but it’s a far cry from the nights where I panicked that my baby would never sleep for longer than two hours at a time. Here we are refreshed and colic free. I rediscovered my groove.
As we step into week 10, I can reflect candidly on the early weeks. The brave naivety of the beginning days, the confusing changes, the emotional trauma of colic and the slog of sleep deprivation. I can say that I’m proud to have taken it all in my stride, and reasonably stress free. Motherhood for me is so far both harder and easier than I had expected. I’ve learnt to juggle a baby on my boob and signing for a delivery, I’m really good at picking things up with my toes, and my diet is mainly soup and cereal based. As Ray learns to play and nap elsewhere than my arms, I find I am able to prepare a half decent dinner, half empty that laundry basket or type up half a blog post. But really, I love the naptimes in my arms and I’m not in a rush to tidy the house rather than soak up my baby. We’ve survived post immunisation fever, colic, sleep deprivation and nappy rash. These days Raven is smiling more than ever and over time I have learnt to distinguish between her cries and cues and so I’m able to settle her faster and with greater confidence. I feel braver again, I understand her little routines – she poops right after a feed, she’s hungry as soon as she wakes, she wants ‘comfort boob’ in the evening, she like to be held in a certain position, she sleeps well in the baby carrier in the morning, try and get her sleepy before she’s put in the carseat – simple understandings that have gifted us a softer flow in the day. She’s on the cusp of giggles now and last night she shrieked in delight as she kicked around in the bath. We celebrated Winters birthday together and I held her especially close as I felt his loss so monumentaly. Her presence reminded me to enjoy the journey, even the fumbly parts.
The biggest lesson for me is that motherhood is what we make of it. I’ve realised I don’t need a huge bag of supplies to go out – a few nappies, wipes and a change of clothes is all I need for a tiny baby – and a train down to London and back IS possible… why not? Just with foreplanning and working around baby’s needs. And yes, some days baby’s needs are a sofa and play mat day with no humping around. No doubt when I (hopefully) have future babies I will have to bend around more than one need and life will be a little more complicated, but for now I’ve realised that whether we get out of bed and dressed at 10am or manage an early morning baby wearing stroll, we can do whatever the hell we want. Isn’t that what life is about after all, ever changing, going with the flow. Even as adults our moods and wants shift daily. I’m letting go of Instagram perfection and ideal parenting and instead I’m embracing my own personal journey of motherhood, one where I realise that every day is different and I’ll never stop learning how to care for my child. My baby is happy and loved and I’m peaceful with that, through the easy breezy times and those trickier times, I’m holding onto that truth.